Raise your hand if you remember the modem dial-up tone

In this video from Wired, two sonic branding experts take us on a tour of the world’s most recognizable tones, chimes, and sound blends, and explain why they impact us the way they do. Sonic branding is designed to grab us in certain ways, and some of these sounds are very much embedded in our psyches.

They also date us. I remember the first time I heard the THX sound in a theater–it blew my eyebrows back and fried my brain. That sound was amazing. And then there’s the scratchy, awful, atonal, teeth-gritting sound of a modem dialup. Do you recall scrambling to turn down the volume so you wouldn’t wake up your parents/roommate/anyone else in the house with that infernal screeching? And yet it was a wonderful sound because it signified the opening of a gateway to a whole new world.

It occurred to me that my 16-year-old son has never heard that sound in real usage and won’t have any of the associations with it that I do. But then, he would probably recognize all of the gaming console sounds while I don’t know a single one of them.

Sounds are closely tied to memory and emotion. Sound embeds itself in our lives. The fact that some of these sounds make me smile or feel nostalgic is a testament to their power. It’s no wonder that Apple’s discard of the classic Mac start-up chime in the new MacBook Pros has left so many users feeling bereft. (But take heart: you can get it back with a simple Terminal command.)

And oh, that Law and Order dum dum. Who knew it was supposed to be the sound of a jail door closing?

(Edited to add: I’ve just learned that the embedded video is not viewable in the US. Try this site, which seems to have bypassed the regional restrictions.)

Posted in culture | 2 Comments

Rogue One review

Star wars rogue one

We have finally seen Rogue One. Our conclusions (with mild spoilers):

1. The first half of the movie gets a 4 out of 10. Too many jumps from point A to point B to point C, no character development, cheesy dialogue, and cinematography so dark that I wanted to reach out, pull up the Control Panel, and turn up the screen brightness.

2. However, the landscapes and spacescapes are spectacular. Really gorgeous special effects.

3. The second half of the movie almost redeems the first. It is edge-of-chair exciting, and takes a very daring step that I can’t ever recall seeing in a “heroic battle for good” movie. Also, the way in which a simple, low-tech solution is found to open a high-tech shield was brilliant and extremely fun to watch.

4. In the first half, the writers pull the tired old “character does incredibly stoopid act in order to further the plot.” Scene: good woman with gun confronts bad man with many armed guards. It has already been made clear that she expects to die and is willing to trade her life in order to kill the baddie. So does she pull the trigger? No! Instead she shouts, “You will never win!” and gives the baddie time to order his guards to mow her down, which they do. She never gets off a shot. This is such lazy writing. There are other ways to kill off a character and save the bad guy for later besides using the shortcut of “Oh! I know! Make her stoopid!”

5. There are apparently no women in the Empire. At all.

6. Though the Rebel Alliance has a female senator and one other female character with about six lines of dialogue, it is also extremely low on women. We did spot two female fighter pilots in the final battle. One of them actually had a line of dialogue. All other pilots, all other senators, all other generals/captains/soldiers were male. The hero of our story was female, but the entire remainder of the main cast, including every other member of her (quite large) raiding party, was male.

7. Judging by the swelling music, the cinematography, the copious-tears-mixed-with-torrential-rain, and the dialogue, we were supposed to be emotionally impacted by the death of a particular character. It had zero effect on me or my wife. Hint to writers: in order to engender emotion in the audience, you must first develop characters and their relationships.

8. However, we got a little sniffly over the death of a droid.

9. The best character in the whole movie was a droid.

Posted in entertainment | 5 Comments

How to make an author’s day

This message came in through my website a couple of weeks ago, from a reader in Seattle, Washington:

I stumbled across The Caphenon when putting lesbian science fiction books on hold at The Seattle Public Library. It seems I had read all the lesbian detective, police, mystery books in the system so I decided to strike out on the fantasy/science fiction genre.

I’m really glad I found this book, or I would have missed a very, very well written, ahead of its class, not only for lesbian readers, tome (I’ll have to look that word up). There aren’t that many well written quote lesbian unquote books compared to how many books are out there. Let me change that. Really well written books are not that common.

[…] Then I randomly selected, by their covers, more lesbian science fiction books. I read a bunch more, and luckily (thank Fahla) I was reading the second book in the Alsea series without realizing it until it mentioned Tal in the second chapter. It’s while I read The Producer’s Challenge that I realized what a talented writer you are.

I just finished the second book, and put the third one on hold at the library. I went to Amazon to see if there were more Alsea books and I see there are five. If you could tell me the title of the fourth book I will bother The Seattle Public Library to buy both it and Vellmar the Blade (Chronicles of Alsea Book 5). Are you going to write more Alsea books? 🙂 All good things come to an end, but can’t we put it off a little longer?

The fourth novel is of course Catalyst, which was just released last week (and goes into general release on all bookseller platforms in three more days). The sixth book in the series, Outcaste, is taking excellent shape. And the second book, which this reader loved so much, is available for a free download today.

Without a Front The Producers Challenge by Fletcher DeLancey

It’s week four of Ylva’s exciting Advent Giveaway, where we’re gifting a free e-book every Sunday between now and Christmas, plus one on Christmas Eve.

Today’s book is Without A Front: The Producer’s Challenge by Fletcher DeLancey. This sci-fi fantasy, which is book two in the Chronicles of Alsea series, shows the aftermath of the Alsean war, and the pressures on its leader, Lancer Tal, to rebuild. There’s plenty of sizzle when she meets an obstinate, intriguing producer, who gives her a cocky challenge to work the fields.

Download a free copy all day today until midnight EST.

If you know someone who might enjoy the Chronicles of Alsea, this is the perfect way to try out one of the books. (Or as those old infomercials used to say: “Try without risk!”)

In the meantime, I’m still basking in the happiness that comes from 1) knowing my books are in the Seattle Public Library, and 2) hearing from a new reader who stumbled across those books and fell in love with them. This is what libraries are all about — not to mention one of the main reasons I write.

Happy holidays, and may good books find you during the gift-giving season.

Posted in good news, writing | 3 Comments

Math + pop music = hidden education

Popular music group OK Go, famous for their unusual and meticulously planned videos (which often put Rube Goldberg to shame) have done it again, this time with a video that explores a world we cannot see.

The video opens with a 4.2-second burst of frenetic action, all flying colored salt and bullets penetrating buckets of paint and exploding water balloons and guitars. It goes by so fast that you’re not even sure what happened.

Then the real magic begins. The video returns to the beginning and shows it all again, this time in super slow motion. And this is when you realize that every event in these 4.2 seconds has been perfectly synchronized to the beat of the music and even to specific syllables in the lyrics. It is a phenomenal, real-world example of mathematics at work. (Teachers will love showing this to teens.) Damian Kulash, Jr., the lead singer, worked on the math for this video for “eight to ten hours a day, for, like, a month.”

So watch this, and then read a bit more about it. Oh, and you really need to see it full screen.

Got all that?

OK Go put up background notes and some interesting Q&A on their website. It will make the geeks happy with answers to things such as:

How many things happen in it?

It sort of depends how you count “things,” but there are 318 events (54 colored salt bursts behind Tim, 23 exploding paint buckets, 128 gold water balloons, etc.) that were synchronized to the music before the breakdown.

Did you really blow up all those guitars?

Yes, but they were already being scrapped by Fender for not meeting their quality control standards, which is to say they were defects. No playable guitars were harmed in the making of this video.

But the best part is the spreadsheet. You have to go check out that spreadsheet.

There’s also a video on the making of the video, which is worth a look. My favorite bit: when the guy in charge of building the hardware and doing the coding to make all of this stuff happen says, “The last time that I’ve seen someone having to build something this accurate to fire pyrotechnics was the Manhattan Project.”

Hat tip to Rebecca.

Posted in music, science, tech | 6 Comments

This year for Christmas: CATALYST

Guess what’s coming to (an online) bookstore near you? Book 4 in the Chronicles of Alsea series: Catalyst.

This is a full-length novel which takes place immediately after Without A Front: The Warrior’s Challenge. In fact, Catalyst picks up the day after the previous book ends. If you’re curious about what happened to Captain Ekatya Serrado and Doctor Lhyn Rivers during the time they were absent from Alsea, this book has all the answers.

Catalyst cover

From the back cover:

After disobeying orders and saving the planet of Alsea from invasion, Captain Ekatya Serrado returns home a hero and renegade, alongside Dr. Lhyn Rivers, now the foremost authority on a culture that fascinates and terrifies. They share a secret: they are tyrees, linked by an Alsean empathic bond that should be biologically impossible for two Gaians. The secret could cost Ekatya her career, but when both women are drawn into a high stakes political game, their tyree bond may be all that stands between them and the dangerous enemies they have made.

In Catalyst, the fourth book of the Chronicles of Alsea, the bonds of love, friendship, and family are redefined. The intersection of the Alsean and Gaian cultures has profoundly changed both—and become a catalyst for miracles.

All of our favorite characters are there, including Andira Tal and Salomen Opah, though the bulk of the story belongs to Ekatya and Lhyn. Their decisions at Alsea have followed them home, and nothing can ever be the same.

The paperback version of Catalyst will be available on Amazon beginning December 7; at that time Amazon will be taking pre-orders for the e-books as well (they’ll be available on the 21st). If an e-book is what you want and you don’t wish to wait, you can go to Ylva Publishing and buy direct from there, starting on the 7th.

Posted in writing | 4 Comments

Vellmar the Blade free giveaway (Olympics edition)

The Olympics have ended, and many of us are feeling a little post-Olympic letdown. We saw people doing practically superhuman things, overcoming incredible odds, demonstrating heartwarming acts of kindness…these are the stories that keep us watching, and now we have to wait another two years (or four, if you’re summer sport oriented) before we can see them again.

Take heart! There’s a way to mitigate the letdown. You can read Vellmar the Blade, a novella in the Chronicles of Alsea series that follows the adventures of Lead Guard Vellmar when she competes against her mother in the Global Games — Alsea’s version of the Olympics.

It’s not your usual story with a predictable ending, because as the blurb says:

Vellmar became a legend not for winning a championship, but for losing it.

At 102 pages, Vellmar the Blade is a quick and easy entry into the Chronicles of Alsea. It’s not part of the main story arc, but it offers an absorbing glimpse into the Alsean culture and some of the characters who live there. If you or someone you know have been interested in this award-winning series, but are not quite sure about tackling such large books…here is your entry point.

VtB books

In celebration of our own Olympics (and the fact that a lovely box of paperbacks just arrived at my house), I am giving away two signed copies of Vellmar the Blade in a drawing. To qualify for the drawing, simply comment on this blog post and share two things: 1) the name of your favorite female athlete from the Rio Olympics, and 2) the reason why she became your favorite athlete.

I will run the contest for a week and draw names next Tuesday. The two winners will hear from me that day, and as soon as I have addresses, I’ll pop your autographed copies in the mail.

And now I will sit down and enjoy the contest entries, because they’re sure to be a wonderfully diverse bunch of names and reasons.

Posted in good news, writing | 17 Comments

Chronicles of Alsea: all award finalists, all on sale

CoA covers

It has been a long time since I posted on this blog, and I will explain why in a future post…but in the meantime, I wanted to share some good news with everyone.

All three books in my Chronicles of Alsea series were published last year, and they have been racking up awards and accolades ever since. The Caphenon is currently a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and both Without A Front: The Producer’s Challenge and Without A Front: The Warrior’s Challenge are now finalists for the Goldies (awarded by the GCLS).

In celebration, Ylva Publishing currently has all three e-books of the series on sale for $4.99. If you’d like to give a gift to a friend, now is the time!

It’s only for today — the sale ends Wednesday at 06:00 German time (which is tonight for the US).

In the meantime, I am furiously scribbling on the fourth book in the series…

Posted in writing | 4 Comments

The camera you have

I went for a walk in the rain today, and on a whim decided to trek into a field I know well for its orchid population in spring. It’s really too soon for any orchids; they shouldn’t be there until next month, but I figured what the heck…

And there they were. None in full bloom yet, but quite a few pushing up their buds and several in that beautiful phase where the flower head is just about to unwrap and unfold.

Naked man orchid closed 1

I thought, “I’ve got to come back tomorrow with my Fuji camera and get some macro shots of these.” And then I thought about how fast flowers unfold, and how likely it was that this particular one would not appear the same in 24 hours of time…so I pulled out my iPhone, which goes with me on every walk because it houses my music library, and snapped a few pictures.

Dang if they don’t look pretty good.

Then I went over to the only open flower in the field (visible at the top of the above photo) and took a picture of that.

Naked man orchid open 1

You can probably see from this why they’re called Naked Man Orchids (Orchis italica).

As I tucked my phone (and earbud cords) back into my raincoat and resumed my walk, I thought about the photographer’s idiom that the best camera for the job is the one you have with you. It’s true.

But I’m still taking my Fuji back for macro shots.

Posted in wildflowers | 7 Comments

Total shock: the new Star Wars is fun for all

This is me eating crow and being delighted to do so.

My wife and and I took our kid to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens last night, and I went fully armed with my skepticism because, ya know, JJ Abrams and ruined Star Trek franchise and lens flare and women losing their clothes while playing bit parts as men do everything heroic. I predicted, possibly at length, that we were about to witness Abrams ruining a second epic franchise, but at least this wouldn’t be so awful since there wasn’t much left to ruin after George Lucas destroyed it with the Prequels That Must Not Be Named.

BUT! Either someone really reined JJ Abrams in, or he had some far better writers/advisors, or someone gave him some good drugs. Because this Star Wars is great fun for boys and girls. It has two separate hero arcs for two separate heroes: one is a young man finding both his courage and the right side to fight for, while the other takes the more traditional hero journey of a lonely young scrapper discovering her hidden powers, leaving her narrow, circumscribed life, and joining a fight far larger than she ever imagined.

We really enjoyed it. It was great fun, with (intentional!) humor and fantastic action sequences, gorgeous settings, and real honest-to-goddess acting. Also: nothing even close to Jar Jar Binks or Ewoks. You will of course be required to check all scientific awareness at the door, which I mostly did happily, though I still choked at the idea of draining the entirety of a star’s energy into a sphere the size of a planet (with a living forest and snow on top, no less). I also had to consciously suppress any mental calculations about how long it would take to slow a ship to below the speed of sound after entering a planet’s atmosphere at the speed of light while somehow avoiding being turned into a paste dripping down the inside front windshield. (Never mind the calculations on how a ship could hit a planetary atmosphere at the speed of light and not become an instant and spectacular ball of ionized gas.)

But those moments aside…this was fun. Just fun. I want to see it again if only to admire the amazing sets and action pieces. And can I just say how utterly, wonderfully fabulous it is that after six damn movies, Star Wars finally gave us a heroine?*

This film erases the painful, slow motion disaster that was the prequels, or Episodes I, II and III if you’ve never quite grasped that the prequels came after the originals (I never have). For the first time since The Phantom Menace made us all throw our popcorn at the screen in 1999, I am looking forward to a Star Wars sequel.

* (Yes, yes, I know: Queen Amidala. She had such promise early on, but then turned into a two-dimensional plot device whose only purpose was to provide a reason for Anakin to go to the Dark Side, pop out two kids, and die. Daisy Ridley’s character of Rey does more in the first half of The Force Awakens than Amidala did in three movies.)

Posted in entertainment | 8 Comments

The Caphenon on sale today

The Caphenon 500x800

Looking for holiday gift ideas? How about The Caphenon ON SALE for today only at Ylva’s Super Sunday sales. A different book is featured every Sunday this month, today it’s The Caphenon, and the price is just $2.99. That is two-thirds off the normal $8.99 price.

Let me repeat: The Caphenon is on sale for $2.99 right now, and only today.

Go get some for your family and friends!

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